The House That C&D Built

While some industries may cringe at the idea of tightening environmental regulations, at least one sees dollar signs ahead.

The construction and demolition (C&D) recycling industry is heavily regulated at the state and federal levels, causing many landfills to reject C&D waste. Asphalt, concrete and wood recyclers, however, have been cashing in on the situation.

"We believe the market can be pushed by regulation," said Mike Taylor of the National Association of Demolition Contractors (NADC). Taylor predicts that construction projects will soon have mandated recycled-waste content percentages for bid specifications. The bid preference may be only 1 or 2 percent, Taylor said, but almost any mandated percentage for use of C&D waste would boost the industry.

He also predicts that the United States eventually will follow the example of the European Union (EU), which already uses a great deal of recovered materials in new construction projects. The EU also has mandated that landfills cannot accept C&D debris after 2010.

The NADC's Pennsylvania chapter has attempted to push specified percentages of recycled constituents for new construction projects. They've met with little success, due to political pressure exerted by the state's numerous virgin aggregate producers. But Taylor believes the attempt was the start of a new trend.

Allied Demolition, Denver, has begun an aggressive campaign to educate city and state officials about the advantages of using recycled materials. Since then, they've successfully won municipal contracts for projects such as airport and road reconstruction. We've heavily lobbied our market, said Russ Hawkins of Allied Demolition. "That just means explaining the benefits to people."

Krush Inc., Indianapolis, began recycling concrete in 1990. "It was just a matter of people becoming aware that it could be done," said Richard Dotson. According to Dotson, Hawkins and other recyclers, using recycled materials such as asphalt and concrete has the following benefits:

* Reduced landfill tipping fees and transportation costs;

* Less expenses for buying and transporting virgin materials, if new construction uses on-site materials from demolished buildings or roads;

* A solution for disposal, in states where landfills no longer accept C&D wastes; and

* Recycled asphalt compacts more readily, sets up faster and absorbs more moisture than virgin materials.

The savings on transporting extremely heavy materials is by far the greatest advantage to using recycled asphalt and concrete. But in the end, the cost of the finished product - recycled concrete or asphalt - is comparable to that of virgin material. "The cost varies per job," said Nick Seegert, president of Seegert Construction Inc., Camano Island, Wash. "We charge between $3.50 to $5 per ton. This includes a mobilization fee to transport our equipment to the site, loading materials into the crusher and stockpiling."

A minimum mobilization fee is $2,500, which covers the cost of moving the rock crusher, conveyor, screening towers, front-end loader, dump trucks and other necessary support equipment to the site. Seegert's clients, who tend to be general contractors, often save some expense by using their own personnel and equipment to move the recycling equipment to the site.

"We don't make money on the mobilization fee," Seegert said. "It costs between $250 to $400 to move just one piece of equipment. The money is made on crushing the rock."

Downtime can be extremely expensive for recyclers, due to the high cost of their special equipment. "We have welders on site and all of our employees are mechanics who are familiar with the equipment," Seegert said. "If something breaks, we want to repair it ourselves right away." To reduce costs and save time, Seegert's company repairs their own bucket belts and welds.

The National Asphalt Paving Association fully endorses using recycled materials, according to Taylor. The recycled materials function at standards established by the American Society for Testing Materials.

Builders still question the performance of recycled materials. "One argument is that since the material is contaminated, it is lacking the strength of something coming out of a quarry," Taylor said. In Philadelphia, for example, the architect for Spectrum II, a 35,000 square foot municipal stadium project, specified all virgin materials. "It's hard to convince architects that it's as strong as virgin material," Taylor said.

"There are negatives that could be seen as advantages," Taylor said. For instance, although many people still see glass as a contaminant, it is actually a desirable additive equivalent to sand, said Taylor and at least two recyclers. Allied Demolition is considering grinding Adolph Coors' surplus of recovered bottles into sand and selling it as an additive for paving and concrete and for gardening.

Steel reinforcement bar or "re-bar" is another by-product that accompanies concrete and asphalt recovery. Rock crushers used in quarries were not equipped to handle this material, so new technology was developed.

Dotson was originally in the concrete construction business, but his firm entered the recycling business in 1990 with the purchase of powerful magnets to remove re-bar. Compensation for re-bar can vary greatly. "It goes from almost having to pay to get rid of it to $20 to $30 a ton," Dotson said. Sometimes Krush handles the recovery of re-bar; sometimes the customer does.

The need for increased mobility and self-containment also affects technological development. Because concrete, asphalt and steel are extremely heavy, transportation costs can be astronomical. Instead of hauling recovered materials to a central location for processing, many recyclers go directly to demolition sites. After they're stockpiled on-site, the materials can supplement virgin materials specified for the new building or road construction.

"The move now is for portability and units that are self-contained," said Larry Horwedel, at Excel Manufacturing, maker of concrete and asphalt recycling systems. "You're competing with people in the aggregate business. How do you compete with $2.35 a ton? By going on site." When recyclers have to haul the materials, the cost of doing business goes up and they cannot compete.

Seegert Construction increased its business by upgrading its equipment. "The newer machines get onto small sites quickly and can handle bigger jobs better," Seegert said. The capability to do both is essential to profit as a recycler.

Many companies have chosen to specialize in C&D recycling. These companies tend to be small, with five employees; some even work out of a person's home. They are often hired by demolition contractors, general contractors and concrete producers who use or resell recovered materials. Some recyclers even sell recovered aggregate to landscaping materials manufacturers who dye it to look like volcanic rock.

The small, specialized C&D recyclers have begun to experience competition from demolition contractors. Initial capital investment for asphalt and concrete recycling systems and tub grinders for wood is high. Even a small recycling firm may invest three-quarter of a million dollars up front. Despite this, demolition contractors have begun to penetrate the market. And there still seems to be enough opportunity to go around.

The viability of C&D recycling is largely determined by geographical region and type of material. The east coast was the first to be hit by limitations on landfill space and higher tipping fees, so construction recycling took hold there first, Horwedel said. In areas like California with few virgin aggregate producers and limited landfill space, concrete and asphalt recycling is more popular than in the midwest. Still, in Texas there are signs of strong commitment to C&D recycling, primarily for monetary reasons, Taylor said.

Wood recyclers all over the country are selling recovered wood materials for reuse in construction or grinding them into woodchips. The chips can be used for composting, sludge drying, temporary road cover, landscaping and gardening, at paper mills and as a fuel supplement for boilers and co-generation facilities at some utility companies.

Air pollution control measures such as no-burn zones in states like Washington have given birth to companies that clear the land for construction projects and sell brush and wood to utility companies and wood mills which use it for energy. "When the burning stopped here," said Gary Goodnight, owner of Goodnight Chipping, Monroe, Wash., "we thought this would be a good way to go. We wouldn't be in this business if you could just burn. State regulations are driving this industry."

Goodnight said woodchip sales only defray disposal costs. With burning, there was no real expense for clearing land. Then came tipping fees and costs to transport the wood and brush to landfills. Now, these expenses are replaced by the cost to transport wood chips to customers. Goodnight says his profit comes from land clearance for developers.

In summer, when woodchips are plentiful, many utilities don't pay for them. In winter, the utilities will pay more. Stockpiling the chips to wait for a better price isn't an option since the chips present a fire hazard if they're too dry. When the rainy season begins, they can absorb too much moisture for incineration.

Keeping the wood chips moving is essential; Goodnight accomplishes this with 35 employees and 10 trucks delivering two or more 10-ton shipments daily - five days a week in winter, seven days a week in summer, 24 hours a day. "Unlike others in this business, we have the volume to provide chips to steady-paying customers," Goodnight said. "Most chippers have to depend on the co-generation plants because they can't guarantee quantities will be needed by steadier customers."

Money is paid per "bone dry ton," said Goodnight. Upon delivery, woodchips are analyzed for the moisture content. The shipment is weighed, discounting the percentage amount that is water. Payment for the actual wood can range from nothing to $24 a ton.

"We pay the most attention to steady customers, like the paper mills. The utilities are a last resort for surplus we want to eliminate," said Goodnight.

Although most of the wood is still burned by these parties, pollution is far less than in open-field burning, due to state-of-the-art incinerator technology. About 8 percent of the wood gathered from land clearance is too dirty to be burned. That wood makes an ideal additive for compost.

A small percentage of Goodnight's recovered wood, less than 10 percent, comes from demolition. Goodnight does not expect the figure to grow, because obtaining wood from demolition is more labor-intensive and not as profitable. Aside from labor intensity, quality control is another concern. C&D woods are often treated or have been covered with lead paint, according to Taylor.